I've always noticed a thread running through poems, music, art and literature that I've held to my heart. I've always put it down to the fact that humans are fundamentally pattern seekers
For example, I'm not sure when it was I first read Desiderata
– maybe it was around 13/14 when I first saw my father put it in a frame on the wall. I definitely remember knowing it well by the time I came to type it up on one of my family's first word processors – I must've been nearly 16 at the time and remember knowing it off by heart
Pivotal during that period was also a work by Anthony DeMello called "Awareness
" – I think my mum may have spoken about it a few times, so I got curious and began reading it when I was 17 or 18. I heard Desiderata in so many of Anthony's words – the world was filled with peace, beauty, self-knowledge and reassurance while, paradoxically, over-run with chaos, ignorance and uncertainty.
Next came the Tao Te Ching
– the oldest of all of the texts by a good margin. Like "Awareness" and Desiderata, Lao Tzu seemed to have sprinkled elements of both texts within his own (or vice versa obviously)
And lastly, just within this last year, I read Walt Whitman
. What an eye opener
! Again, the similarities were striking (as they are in the works of Emerson, I'm told, who I've yet to explore much).
Here's what I mean:
"when you compare yourself to others you may become vain or bitter" (Desiderata)
"when you are content to be simply yourself, and don't compare or compete, everyone will respect you" (Tao Te Ching)
"Can you imagine the relief when you don't have to impress anyone anymore? Oh, the relief! Happiness at last" (De Mello)
Don't ask the world to change — you change first. Then you'll get a good enough look at the world so that you'll be able to change whatever you think ought to be changed. Take the obstruction out of your own eye. (DeMello)
"Do you want to change the world? I don't think it can be done. The world is sacred, It can't be improved … " (Tao Te Ching)
"No doubt the universe is unfolding as it should" ( Desiderata)
"There was never any more inception than there is now,
Nor any more youth or age than there is now,
And will never be any more perfection than there is now,
Nor any more heaven or hell than there is now. " (Walt Whitman)
The Master gives himself up / to whatever the moment brings. / He knows that he is going to die,
and her has nothing left to hold on to:
no illusions in his mind,
no resistances in his body.
He doesn't think about his actions;
they flow from the core of his being.
He holds nothing back from life;
therefore he is ready for death,
as a man is ready for sleep
after a good day's work. (Tao Te Ching)
If you would die to the past, if you would die to every minute, you would be the person who is fully alive, because a fully alive person is one who is full of death. We're always dying to things. We're always shedding everything in order to be fully alive and resurrected at every moment. (De Mello)
I pass death with the dying and birth with the new-wash'd babe, and
am not contain'd between my hat and boots,
And peruse manifold objects, no two alike and every one good,
The earth good and the stars good, and their adjuncts all good. (Whitman)
One of the things that these texts seem to exhibit most strongly to me is a sense of "not doing". Of acceptance of the world as it is. Yet paradoxically, they don't suggest complete inaction either – the taoist idea of Pu'u, or the uncarved block, suggests an acceptance of our "natural state", that we are the world that cannot be improved, that is sacred – or at the very least, cannot be improved before complete surrender to our imperfect selves.
What I'm coming to realize is that one of the things I've been searching for in these texts, essentially what I've been denying myself for so very long, is self-compassion. Self compassion is Pu'u – self compassion is "you changing first" – self compassion is accepting that you have a right to be here.
In David Whyte's talk "The Poetry of Self Compassion", he describes the self as a feast – where all of the parts of me that I love, that I enjoy about myself, that make me feel great about myself, are feasting in my house at a table. And all of the things I dislike are banished to outside of the house, are starving, are pressing their faces to the glass. And they've been this way for years – starved, exiled, atrophied. And they have to come in, because they're part of that "natural state", of who I am.
David should've really included Rumi's poem "The Guest House" in his talk – Rumi continues the metaphor much more eloquently than I ever could:
The Guest House
This being human is a guest house.
Every morning a new arrival.
A joy, a depression, a meanness,
some momentary awareness comes
as an unexpected visitor.
Welcome and entertain them all!
Even if they're a crowd of sorrows,
who violently sweep your house
empty of its furniture,
still, treat each guest honorably.
He may be clearing you out
for some new delight.
The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
meet them at the door laughing,
and invite them in.
Be grateful for whoever comes,
because each has been sent
as a guide from beyond.
~ Rumi ~
I only disagree with the last line here – each has not been sent as a guide from beyond. Each lives within me – the darkest, most heinous things live within me. And I've resolved to greet each one at the door, hear what they have to say, and invite them to the table at last.